Copy of 2023-08-24T124242Z_1698309587_UP1EJ8O0ZB45X_RTRMADP_3_MOTOR-F1-NETHERLANDS-1692892828513
Red Bull's Max Verstappen meets fans ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix at Circuit Zandvoort, Netherlands on Thursday. Image Credit: Reuters

Zandvoort: Max Verstappen says he wants to give his orange army of fans packing the stands at his home Dutch Grand Prix this weekend reason to party.

Red Bull’s double world champion can equal Sebastian Vettel’s record of nine consecutive wins at Zandvoort, the coastal circuit where he won from pole in 2021 and 2022.

“This is one of my favourite places,” the Dutchman, looking relaxed and tanned after F1’s summer break, said at the track on Thursday.

“I’m not thinking about the record too much. We want to bring the best possible car to the track and of course we want to win.”

Verstappen’s massive popularity in the Netherlands is one of the principal reasons why Zandvoort came out of a near four-decade hibernation two years ago to rejoin the F1 calendar.

Described by one former teammate Pierre Gasly on Thursday as “an icon” of Holland, the man himself jokingly brushed aside any pressure he may feel as the home hero on Sunday where the majority of the 300,000 fans expected over the weekend will be rooting for him.

“I wouldn’t wish that (pressure) on anyone,” said the runaway championship leader, before breaking into a broad grin.

“It’s great to see all the fans. It’s an amazing track to drive, all of that makes it a fun weekend.”

He approaches the 13th race of the year in a strong position to join a select club numbering Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher and Juan Manuel Fangio as drivers to win three straight world titles.

He leads teammate Sergio Perez by 125 points with his team out to extend their record unbeaten run to 14 races in all.

This dominance has led to talk in some quarters of changes to try to shackle Red Bull’s superiority.

But one man totally against that notion was not Verstappen, but one of his poor unfortunate grid rivals who has to try to hang on to Red Bull’s coat tails every Sunday — Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.

‘Incredible job’

“I would not like F1 to change anything because I think they (Red Bull) deserve to be in the position they are in,” said the Spaniard.

“They’ve simply done an incredible job with this year’s car, Max is driving at a very high level.

“He’s not making any mistakes, Red Bull aren’t making mistakes.

“They deserve to have the success they are having because they are beating us on a fair and square basis.

“It’s up to us to get better as soon as possible.”

Sainz raced alongside Verstappen back in 2015 at the then ToroRosso and is unsurprised at his old teammate’s rise to dominance.

“Hype was something Max never lacked,” said the Spaniard. “Even well before his debut in F1 he already had a lot of following behind him.

“When I made my debut with him in 2015 I always understood it, he’s a special talent and performing exceptionally well.”

Crossed swords

Gasly who crossed swords with Verstappen before F1 noted: “It was clear from a really young age, when we were racing karts he was different to any other drivers.

“It was clear, more attention, more focus, driven by the (Verstappen) name, the performances.

“Not surprising he came to F1 and switched to Red Bull, not surprised he is where he is today with his following, especially in the Netherlands.

“From an outside point of view he seems to be the icon of the country. It explains why 99.9 per cent of the grandstands are orange when we come to Zandvoort.”

Despite the massive gulf between one team and the other nine on the grid Sainz says he still comes to work every day as motivated as ever.

“Hopefully at some point in the season Red Bull will make a mistake,” said Sainz, with 92 points from an underwhelming season so far in a tricky car.

“If they don’t I have plenty of motivation to fight for podiums, to develop this car and see the impact I can help make for next year.”